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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 4/17/2017

Guests: Jamie McIntyre, Jon Ossoff, Jason Johnson, Annie Linskey, Kevin Dunn

Show: Hardball with Chris Matthews Date: April 17, 2017 Guest: Jamie McIntyre, Jon Ossoff, Jason Johnson, Annie Linskey, Kevin Dunn

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Trump to Kim -- Got to behave.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

The Trump White House is responding to the threat from North Korea by attacking Barack Obama for the crisis. And just hours after North Korea`s failed missile launch this weekend, Vice President Mike Pence toured the DMZ between North and South Korea. He warned the Kim Jung-un regime that all options are now on the table.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As the president has made very clear, either China will deal with this problem or the United States and our allies will.

There was a period of strategic patience, but the era of strategic patience is over. President Trump has made it clear that the patience of the United States and our allies in this region has run out and we want to see change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, meanwhile, back at the White House, President Trump again reprimanded Kim Jong-un like a troublemaking school kid. Let`s watch him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Any message for North Korea?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Got to behave.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: ANyway, the North Korean regime is making threats of their own. The countries ambassador to the U.N. said today the United States is pushing the situation in the Korean peninsula to the brink of war.

Well, the second part of the president`s message, following his usual habits, was a political attack on his predecessor. Quoting a guest on Fox News early today, President Trump tweeted, "The first 90 days of my presidency has exposed the total failure of the last eight years of foreign policy. So true."

When he was later asked by Fox News whether he ruled out a military strike on North Korea, here was his response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I don`t want to telegraph what I`m doing or what I`m thinking. I`m not like other administrations, where they say, We`re going to do this in four weeks, and that doesn`t work that way. We`ll see what happens. I hope things work out well. I hope there`s going to be peace. But you know, they`ve been talking with this gentleman for a long time. You read Clinton`s book, he said, Oh, we made such a great peace deal, and it was a joke.

You look at different things over the years with President Obama. Everybody has been outplayed. They`ve all been outplayed by this gentleman. And we`ll see what happens. But I just don`t telegraph my moves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by "USA Today`s" Heidi Przybyla, Jamie McIntyre, author of "The Washington Examiner`s" newsletter "Daily on Definitely," and NBC`s national security reporter herself, Courtney Kube.

Thank you, Courtney, for coming over here from the Pentagon.

So let me ask you -- you can start, everybody jump in here -- what can you discern to be the strategic effort, not patience anymore, strategic urgency of the Trump effort in North Korea?

COURTNEY KUBE, NBC NATIONAL SECURITY PRODUCER: OK, so keep in mind "strategic patience" was this notion or is this notion that you bring in your allies and that every time North Korea has some sort of a provocative action -- let`s say a missile test or a nuclear test -- the community around them, those allies that you have, put enough pressure on them that eventually, North Korea, Kim Jong-un, will stop, that it will -- it will deter his activity.

Well, it obviously -- it has not been working as of yet. Just this past year, in 2016, he had about two dozen missile launches. He had several nuclear tests. The numbers versus his father on his military provocations -- he`s outweighed his father in just the first few years of his time as the leader there.

So now what we`re looking at -- and frankly, you know, Vice President Pence -- he talked about strategic patience, an end to it, today when he was at the DMZ. But Secretary Tillerson, the secretary of state, actually said that about a month ago.

MATTHEWS: Well, what`s the -- what`s strategic urgency then? What are -- what are we doing down -- a full-court press, or what? How do we push this guy in the short run to give up his nuclear program?

KUBE: So...

JAMIE MCINTYRE, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": So what -- so what they`re doing is, of course, they`re using the two-pronged approach, right? So we hear President Trump ramping up the rhetoric, making, you know, threatening tweets and threatening statements, moving military assets in a way that looks provocative. And at the same time, they`re trying to bring China into the mix.

And you know, one thing I think that Trump is right about is that the United States has not really had China working with it and trying to really pressure...

MATTHEWS: Do we now?

MCINTYRE: ... North Korea. Well, they`re certainly making noises like they are. They don`t -- China doesn`t have an interest in having a nuclear neighbor on its...

MATTHEWS: But Xi, the president of China, just the other day told Trump, according to Trump, We don`t have that much impact on North Korea. So he was pulling back on his ability to fix the situation.

MCINTYRE: And Trump was pushing back and saying, Yes, you do, particularly in the area of trade. There`s clearly more things that China could do. They could implement the sanctions that exist now more thoroughly. They could put a lot more economic pressure. And right now, that`s what they`re talking about, economic pressure.

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, "USA TODAY," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: The question here is, how is this any different from what Barack Obama was trying to do? And trying to do -- Obama also tried to goad China into doing these things. And the question is, is Trump all of a sudden having some kind of success where Obama didn`t, or are these moves that China is forecasting a result of China realizing on its own that, Hey, this is becoming a greater threat in our region...

(CROSSTALK)

MCINTYRE: I think it was the beautiful chocolate cake that made the -- that made the...

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me go back -- Courtney, this -- we talked before. So display what you`re thinking and told me before. We`ve dropped the "mother of all bombs." I hate the phrase. It comes from Saddam Hussein, I think anyway. And it also -- we also (INAUDIBLE) went out and attacked the nuclear -- or the chemical war site in Syria.

Does that -- whatever the reason for those events, will they have the impact of spooking Kim?

KUBE: So I think the administration hopes that they do, but -- the reality is, nothing happens in a vacuum. We know that, right? But General Nicholson, who`s in Afghanistan, General Votel (ph) and General Townsend, who are running the war the Iraq and Syria right now -- they weren`t making the calculus that, We`re going to strike this ISIS camp in Nangarhar in eastern Afghanistan, and we`re going to strike this chemical -- this facility where -- this airfield where the chemical weapons were flown out of, Oh, and maybe that will help with the situation with North Korea. Not at all.

And in fact, I would make the exact opposite argument of that, that these were -- these are individual, very specific wars that they were running in two different places, and it seems to me that after these things happened, the politicians moved in and tried to all tie it together...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... but if those aren`t our strategic urgency methods, what are they?

PRZYBYLA: That does seem to be the method, though.

MATTHEWS: What are we doing to goose this guy into doing something he doesn`t want to do, which is slow down or stop his nuclear weapons development?

PRZYBYLA: Well, that does seem to be the method, is just spooking him, circling him with the warships, dropping these bombs in Afghanistan and Syria and saying, Look -- you know, Look here, this could be next.

But then in the White House press briefing, when the administration is pressed on this, is pressed on whether there is a red line, they make very clear that they want no part in getting involved in a big messy war over there or having a big military...

MATTHEWS: OK, suppose -- suppose, Jamie -- and all three of you jump in here...

MCINTYRE: Right.

MATTHEWS: I`m antsy because we`ve been through a lot of wars in our life. And we you get into -- you know, Barbara Tuchman`s right. You get into them without knowing you`re getting into them. And what happens if they start unleashing their entire artillery onto South Korea because they said in some communique, We thought we were under attack because of what Trump`s been saying?

MCINTYRE: So that...

MATTHEWS: I mean, how does that look in history when they destroy South Korea because we`ve been pushing them too hard?

MCINTYRE: So that`s the risk, is miscalculation, maybe a small incident that escalates and then we have all-out war on the Korean peninsula. The Pentagon has war-gamed this scenario, as you can imagine, over the years. The U.S. and the South Korean allies, they would win but at a great cost.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MCINTYRE: The estimates are casualties a million between both sides...

MATTHEWS: How does South Korea come back from an all-out blitz? Because they`re not a very deep country. You can`t keep falling back like you can in Russia. How does South -- we saw it, went down to the Pusan (ph) peninsula back in the Korean war, but that was almost at the end for them. What -- how does -- how does South Korea survive an all-out assault from the North? Can they?

MCINTYRE: Well, yes, they could. And the U.S. would prevail, but again -- and the U.S. and the South Korean allies would prevail. But it would be at tremendous cost.

MATTHEWS: You mean (INAUDIBLE) win.

MCINTYRE: Well, yes, because I think what a lot of people don`t realize is that if...

MATTHEWS: But we`re not going back in.

MCINTYRE: Yes, we are because...

MATTHEWS: You think the United States is going to put an all-out military force into South Korea?

MCINTYRE: Well, no. We would be using much more high-tech weapons. But I think what people don`t remember is that unlike in these other areas, where you might have a debate in Congress and argument over the authorization of use of military force, the U.S. is committed to defend South Korea by treaty, a treaty that Vice President Pence just went there and said is ironclad, because, you know, the Korean war didn`t end with a peace treaty. It ended with an armistice.

PRZYBYLA: Here`s a more immediate dilemma. We`ve told them, Don`t do this again. We`ve said, Look, there`s a new strongman in the White House. Don`t do something like this again. And they have made clear they`re going to do exactly that. So we`re playing this game of chicken, this game of brinkmanship. So when they go ahead and do it, what`s our response?

MATTHEWS: You can`t bluff.

Anyway, let`s take a look at this new tactical thing here. President Trump`s deputy national security adviser, K.T. McFarland, was asked on Fox if the U.S. played a role in North Korea`s failed, its fizzling of its nuclear launch this -- or missile launch this weekend. It wasn`t nuclear, it was just a missile this weekend. Let`s watch it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE FOX NEWS SUNDAY: Did the U.S. sabotage this missile?

K.T. MCFARLAND, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Now, Chris, you know we can`t talk about secret intelligence and things that might have been done, covert operations that might have happened. So I really have no comment on that, and nor should I.

I don`t have any particular comment on what happened with the South -- with the North Korean missile, but it was a fizzle.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So what`s that about a fizzle? I mean, I can read language that although she denied it formally, she had sort of acknowledged it informally with that fizzle joke.

KUBE: There have been -- yes. There have been rumors in the intelligence and military community that the U.S. has been working on this capability for years. So -- and not just to be able to -- it would involve some sort of electronic warfare that would jam a missile...

MATTHEWS: What did we do with -- with the Stutz (sic) thing, what was...

MCINTYRE: Yes, the Stuxnet (INAUDIBLE)

KUBE: Stuxnet, yes.

MATTHEWS: How does that work? How did we screw up somebody else`s operation?

MCINTYRE: Well, that -- in that case, we got the Iranian centrifuges to spin at such a speed that they destroyed themselves. And it would have been a big secret had not it been revealed...

MATTHEWS: How`s this relate to that?

MCINTYRE: ... by "The New York Times." Well, "The New York Times" also is behind the report that -- and one of the prima facie pieces of evidence is that this -- the missile that North Korea is using is based on a Russian design. It`s not the greatest missile in the world, but it`s fairly reliable.

But the North Koreans have had an astoundingly bad record. The failure rate is much higher. And that just makes people go, Could there be something behind that? And of course, if the United States were using cyber-warfare to sabotage the missiles, it`s the last thing they`d want to talk about.

MATTHEWS: Yes, explain to me about nuclear weapons and why only a few countries have them because there were a lot of Russian engineers and scientists available at the end of the cold war, out of money, out of career. And I always wonder why these third world countries and fourth world countries didn`t grab them.

You know, the technology existed. You don`t have to reinvent the wheel here. Why didn`t they just grab those out of work Russian guys, give them $100,000 a year -- they`re not going to get it at home -- and make them make another bomb.

KUBE: Yes, I mean, I think when you...

MATTHEWS: I`m serious.

KUBE: Yes, it`s a good question, actually.

MCINTYRE: It`s not -- well, see, it`s not just the technology. You can Google how to make -- you know, how to make an atomic bomb in your basement. But you need to have fissile material. You need to have this...

KUBE: Right, uranium...

MCINTYRE: ... material (INAUDIBLE) That`s the whole reason that the Iranians don`t have an up and running weapons program is it takes a long time to get the fissile material, either plutonium or uranium, to make a bomb.

KUBE: And you have to look at what`s the motivation here by North Korea to have this? It it`s -- it is their entire being is all about military deterrence. And there`s no -- you know, they -- Kim Jong-un`s father created that in the 1990s when it looked like, you know, North -- South Korea with their democracy was starting to prosper, North Korea, which was a communist dictatorship, was not prospering. So he created this sense of this military first.

And so the people there -- they -- they embrace that and they recognize that, We have to ration food and we`re not going to have supplies and whatnot because the military is more important than we are.

And so the biggest concern to Kim Jong-un is not an actual physical kinetic attack on his nation. It`s something that would bring down his regime, bring down him...

MATTHEWS: But inside.

KUBE: Exactly. And that`s why he needs to have this deterrent in the form of nukes and missiles and...

(CROSSTALK)

PRZYBYLA: ... far more impulsive than his father...

KUBE: Yes.

PRZYBYLA: ... very ruthless and someone who actually organized the slaughter of his own brother, who could feel threatened by the slightest thing. And we just don`t know how he would respond. So the question is, is it the right policy to have this shift, which is simply to spook him?

MATTHEWS: OK. I`ll say one thing. It`s been on my mind for weeks now, and I think it`s on most American`s mind. North Korea is the new worry of the world right now. Do we all agree?

(CROSSTALK)

MCINTYRE: When the strategic commander of the United States was asked what really kept him up at night, it was Korea.

MATTHEWS: I think so.

KUBE: And look at the first place that Secretary Mattis went as sec def. The very first place he went was Korea.

MATTHEWS: I think it`s replaced the (INAUDIBLE) for a while. Thank you so much, Jamie McIntyre, Courtney Kube and Heidi Przybyla.

Coming up -- Republicans have Georgia on their mind, thanks to tomorrow`s special election down there for Congress. Meet the Democratic front- runner. He`s coming here on HARDBALL tonight.

Also, tomorrow is tax day, and Trump will be filing. Will we ever see his returns? I don`t think so. Thousands are protesting, however, in the streets. And check out what happened at Senator Tom Cotton`s town hall.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: As far as I`m aware, the president says he`s still under audit and...

(BOOS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a bad day for Bates Motel. That`s what I call him. Anyway, what is the president hiding here? We`ll dig into Trump`s problems with transparency with our roundtable. By the way, he won`t tell us what his business was like through his tax returns. He won`t even let us now know what business the White House is doing. We don`t get the logs anymore of who`s going in and out. Why?

And later, we`ve got Kevin Dunn. He`s the chief of staff of the great "Veep." Of course, Julia Louis-Dreyfus -- Louis-Dreyfus -- that show is back. It was great. I saw it. And here`s a clip of the new series.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS, ``VEEP``: Oh, where is the great and powerful Oz, by the way?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen, we all know the White House would work so much better if there wasn`t a president, but there is. So we work around that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: We`re going to talk politics on and off the screen with Kevin.

Finally, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch."

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Last week, Democrats came surprisingly close to capturing a traditionally red congressional seat out in Kansas. Well, tomorrow, Democrats have an even better chance at flipping a Republican red seat down in Georgia`s sixth congressional district -- that`s in the northern suburbs of Atlanta -- which was left vacant by HHS secretary Tom Price. Anyway, 18 people are vying for that seat, 11 Republicans, five Democrats, two independents.

And all eyes are on the Democratic front-runner and first-time candidate John Ossoff. Donald Trump, aware that this election is viewed by some as a referendum on him, weighed in this morning, tweeting, "The super-liberal Democrat in the Georgia congressional race tomorrow wants to protect criminals, allow illegal immigration and raise taxes." Well, it`s not clear if President Trump is the best advocate. He won the district by only 1.5 points.

Anyway, by comparison, Mitt Romney won that seat by 24 points back in 2012. Anyway, in a sign of just how important this race is, Republicans and Democrats have spent $14 million down there in TV ads.

Samuel L. Jackson -- love that guy -- was recruited by Democrats to urge voters to head to the polls tomorrow. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAMUEL L. JACKSON, ACTOR/ACTIVIST: Remember what happened the last time people stayed home. We got stuck with Trump. We have to channel the great vengeance and furious anger vintage we have for this administration and to vote at the ballot box.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the race is open, which means both Democrats and Republicans are competing in one race, actually. If no one wins more than 50 percent, then the top two candidates face off in a June runoff.

For more on what`s happening down there on the ground, I`m joined by Kasie Hunt, who`s in Georgia`s sixth congressional district. Kasie, thank you for this. Fifty percent -- that`s the threshold for Ossoff. If he doesn`t get it, he`s got a tough run-off, right?

KASIE HUNT, NBC CORRESPONDENT: That is the threshold, Chris. And there are some Democrats who are trying to argue at this point that he`ll be better off if he is in a run-off, not among 18 candidates. But the reality here is, if he can clear that 50 percent threshold, he is in much better shape. And it would be a tough slog.

He`s raised $8.3 million in just four months. That`s, as you know, Chris, an incredible amount for a House race. He`s really kind of become the vessel into which Democrats have put all of their hopes and dreams in the age of Trump. It`s their first chance to really kind of deal a body blow.

Ossoff, himself, he`s an interesting -- I spoke to him earlier today. He clearly is very much on message. It`s very difficult to throw him off of his talking points. And he clearly has been dealing with this kind of perception that he is all about this national narrative and race.

He`s trying to, you know, convince people that his volunteers are not just people who flew from Berkeley, California. I met one of those on the ground today. He bought his ticket back in February to come and help out on this race because he wanted to do something, anything to help (sic) Trump.

So, you know, Ossoff is now saying, look, this is about you, this is about the people of the Sixth District, but, clearly, there`s a little more to it than that -- Chris.

MATTHEWS: Kasie, you`re great. Thanks so much, Kasie Hunt, down in Atlanta.

I`m now joined by the Democratic front-runner and candidate Jon Ossoff

Let me ask you, Mr. Ossoff. Thank you for joining us tonight.

What do you think about the latest Trump moves? Do you think Trump was right to bomb Syria?

JON OSSOFF (D), GEORGIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think if U.S. intelligence confirmed that the Syrian military struck civilians with chemical weapons, then a swift, punitive, limited strife was a reasonable response.

But any further action should require congressional approval. We can`t get drawn in on the ground there.

MATTHEWS: OK.

What do you make of what`s going on in South Korea? Are you a little nervous, like I am, other people are about we may be pushing Kim Jong-un a little too hard right now, and he might do something ballistic?

OSSOFF: Well, we need to make sure we have the defensive systems in place to defeat the missile threat from North Korea.

But I don`t believe that the administration or any administration has the authority to preemptively strike North Korea and enter the United States into a regional war without congressional approval.

MATTHEWS: How do we defend South Korea against an artillery strike with conventional weapons? You suggest there`s an anti-missile system. How do we do that?

(CROSSTALK)

OSSOFF: An artillery strike on Seoul would be very, very difficult to defend against and would be probably inevitably in the event of the outbreak of major hostilities. That`s one of the reasons that it`s such a flash point.

But we can defeat the missile threat from North Korea with a range of defensive systems that we have from our Navy and some of our land-based systems.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of Trump?

OSSOFF: Well, it was one of the most divisive and destructive presidential races in U.S. history. And I think that many have been hoping that the president will heal some of those wounds, show good faith, and a more inclusive approach to governance.

So far, I don`t think that he`s allayed those concerns among those who believe that that divisive approach to governance is not right for the United States.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of him personally? Do you think -- is he a mixed bag or you think he`s bad? Give me a word for him.

OSSOFF: Well, I have great respect for the office. I don`t have great personal admiration for the man himself.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of him? What is his story?

OSSOFF: I don`t know the man. I don`t know the man.

But what I hope is that he will show good faith and sound judgment. I would be interested, for example, in working with him on an infrastructure bill that could deliver real solutions to Georgia, so we can keep growing our local economy here.

I think there`s room to work across the aisle. And I will work with anyone who has the best interests of this community at heart. I will stand up to anyone who does not, regardless of their party.

MATTHEWS: What should we do about immigration, illegal immigration?

OSSOFF: Well, the only real solution -- and I think most people recognize this -- is comprehensive reform that secures the border and that provides a path to legal status for non-felons who lack documentation.

There`s no way that a mass deportation program of 11 million people can be carried out.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know.

But what do we do to stop the -- what do we do to stop the magnet of illegal jobs, which is the reason people come here? How do you stop people from hiring people illegally? How do you do that? Because that is the reason people come here, to get a job. And businesses exploit cheap labor. They get here. The person just gets here two days ago is the most desperate and works the hardest for the lowest money.

How do you stop that pattern of exploitation?

OSSOFF: Well, the best way to stop it is to secure the border and provide a path to legal status, so folks can come out of the shadows, enter the formal economy.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: No, this is what -- this is what -- this the failure to be comprehensive. What do you do to enforce our immigration laws?

OSSOFF: Well, there should be stricter penalties for those who knowingly employ those who don`t have proper documentation, because that deprives law-abiding American citizens of work.

But that, in and of itself, Chris, is not a solution, unless there is both a border security element and the pathway to legal status.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I know. But the point that you finally got to is the one that progressives tend to skip. And I think that`s the lack of comprehensiveness.

Let me ask you about -- are you moderate or a progressive? Which word would you prefer, if you had to have one?

OSSOFF: Well, I try to shy away from labels, Chris, and focus on the issues. Let me give you a couple examples.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: No, I understand why you shy away from it, but if you had to choose a label for yourself, which would it be? Give me a label.

OSSOFF: Well, I`m pragmatic. And one of the things that would be refreshing about representing this district is that it is a pragmatic, moderate district.

MATTHEWS: OK.

OSSOFF: And I would be empowered to take courageous stands in the center on, for example, comprehensive immigration reform, where far too many members of Congress who are afraid of primary challenges lack the grit and the guts to do something that`s difficult politically.

I will do something that`s difficult politically and move to the center to try to get big things done, whether it`s on immigration or infrastructure or tax reform.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s hope you get a chance to do it. Good luck in the campaign tomorrow. That is the big one tomorrow, Jon Ossoff, who may well win the whole baby tomorrow.

Congratulations on the effort itself. Thank you.

Up next: Thousands across the country are protesting, in fact, demanding to see Donald Trump`s tax returns. That`s calls for more transparency from this guy, who doesn`t want to show anything. He won`t even tell us who is visiting him in the White House. And the noise is getting louder.

Look at those people out there. And they`re not getting paid, Mr. President.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Demonstrators protesting President Trump`s refusal to release his tax returns marked Tax Day today, last Saturday, the -- actually, last Saturday, the 15th, by taking to the streets in cities across this country.

While most were peaceful, protesters out in Berkeley, California, clashed with pro-Trump demonstrators, leading to 20 -- oh, that`s terrible -- 21 arrests. That`s too rough.

Anyway, Trump responded on Easter morning in a series of tweets, saying -- quote -- "I did what was almost an impossible thing to do for a Republican, easily won the Electoral College."

Hot flash, Mr. President.

"Now tax returns are brought up again. Someone should lock -- look into who paid for this small, organized rally, anyway, yesterday. The election is over."

Unbelievable.

Every president in the last 40 years, by the way, has released his tax returns. But Trump has claimed that a routine audit prevents him from something so himself.

Let`s take a look at this and how he addressed that question over the last 14 months. Watch this montage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will absolutely give my return, but I`m being audited now for two or three years, so I can`t do it until the audit is finished, obviously.

It`s under order. And I will release them when the order is completed.

My tax returns are very simple. They`re under a minor audit, routine ordered, as they had been for many years. Every year, I got audited. At the appropriate time, I will release them. But, right now, I`m under routine order. Nobody cares.

The only one that cares about my tax returns are the reporters. OK? You`re the only ones.

QUESTION: You don`t think the American public is concerned about them?

TRUMP: No, I don`t think so. I won. I mean, I became president. No, I don`t think they care at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the demonstrations this weekend appear to contradict the president`s assertion that the American public is not concerned with his returns.

Today, Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked whether the president should lose that excuse that he`s under audit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: You always talk about, well, under audit. The president is under audit.

Is it time to say once and for all the president is never going to release his tax returns?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We will have to get back to you on that.

QUESTION: I mean, really?

SPICER: Really.

QUESTION: So, he may?

SPICER: No, I said I would have to get back to you on that. I think that he`s still under audit. The statement still stands.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: That`s like the old Jesse Jackson. The question is moot. The question is moot.

Anyway, I`m joined now by the Roundtable, Jason Johnson, who is politics editor at The Root. And Annie Linskey is political reporter for the great "Boston Globe." It`s pronounced Boston. And Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political analyst and global editorial director at The Huffington Post.

Start here.

I thought Jonathan Karl had a great question there. When are you going to stop this ruse and this pretension that you`re under audit? Just say it. You`re never going to release them. Get it over with.

JASON JOHNSON, THE ROOT: That`s what`s more interesting to me.

We don`t know why he doesn`t want to, because he doesn`t want his money to be revealed or possibly connections one way or another. But just say you`re not going to do it. You`re not running for reelection. The lying is what adds to the kind of anger that we saw in the protests last week. Just admit you`re going to do something.

MATTHEWS: You think that will work, Annie, just straight out there, hang a lantern on your problem, just say, hey, look, I make a lot of money, I don`t want the little people to see how much money I make, and also I don`t want them to see how little taxes I pay?

ANNIE LINSKEY, "THE BOSTON GLOBE": Yes.

I mean, everybody is filing their taxes tomorrow, if they haven`t already done so. And that`s traditionally when presidents will release theirs.

MATTHEWS: Why doesn`t he just say he has an extension this year, he can`t do it? A lot of people have that situation.

(LAUGHTER)

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He has a permanent -- a permanent, endless extension. Right.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: I think you`re right.

I think -- and, as a matter of fact...

MATTHEWS: You think Jason is right?

FINEMAN: No, his sons, his sons have said, both Don and Eric at one point or another said, he would be crazy to release his tax returns. We don`t want to give our competitors information about our business.

MATTHEWS: Oh.

FINEMAN: That`s what they have said.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s go...

FINEMAN: Now that he`s president, he can`t give the business competition excuse.

MATTHEWS: OK. What adds to the problem here -- and I`m not obsessed with this. Some of my friends are. Somebody in my family is.

But let me just raise this question. When you add on top of this, you double down and say, not only am I not releasing my taxes, I`m not even going to let you know who comes into the White House, which doubled down on, I`m not -- I won`t tell you about my business before I got here. And I`m not telling you about my business when I`m here.

That is not the way the American system should work.

LINSKEY: Yes.

Well, it was so interesting at the White House briefing today when Spicer was asked about that. You know, on one hand, when he`s talking about tax returns, he`s saying, well, we don`t know, we`re not necessarily going to do it.

But when he talks about the White House logs, then they`re talking about tradition. And they`re saying, well, no presidents really did this until Obama. We`re going to go back to tradition.

So, he just -- within five minutes, he`s breaking one tradition that`s been around for 40 years. And then, on the other, he`s saying, oh, no, no, we just -- we`re going following tradition.

MATTHEWS: What is he, Tevye? Is he Tevye? Is he singing tradition? Is this -- I never heard Trump rely on this.

FINEMAN: He`s got a few problems here.

One of them is, he was demanding transparency from Barack Obama for years. That`s number one. Number two, things aren`t really going that well in the Trump White House. So there`s a natural curiosity from people to know, what`s going on, you know, on the deck? What`s happening behind the scenes that`s made this operation not work so well right now?

And he`s also flipped positions on so many things. And his numbers have plummeted as a result. People don`t -- the more people don`t trust him now -- and you have got to look at this transparency issue within the framework of that.

MATTHEWS: I`m not sure that they don`t -- he`s going down.

Do you think he`s going down, after the last couple weeks?

FINEMAN: I think his approval -- his job approval rating has ticked up in some polls, at the same time that people`s personal regard for him have gone in the other direction.

MATTHEWS: Yes. What would you rather have, a higher personal or rather have a higher job approval? I will take the job approval.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: We call them ratings.

FINEMAN: Well, if that`s true, if that`s true, if that`s true, then he`s doing to continue along this way.

MATTHEWS: I think it is ironic that people may think he`s a little less. But I don`t think he`s more or less dishonest, when he called Obama an illegal immigrant for eight years and just laughs it off.

And he says stuff that we know he knows under a lie-detector test he would flunk. We know he didn`t really believe Obama was from Kenya, because there was absolutely no evidence of that.

LINSKEY: Flexibility. It`s flexibility.

MATTHEWS: And we know there`s no audit. Can`t the IRS -- they claim the IRS -- can`t the IRS just make a statement, he`s not under audit?

Just make the announcement. Can`t somebody -- by the way, that would be a good leak. Somebody from the IRS just leak it.

FINEMAN: People have been inviting the IRS people to do that for months now.

MATTHEWS: Have they?

FINEMAN: And to their credit, so far, they haven`t.

JOHNSON: There`s no consequence.

MATTHEWS: I thought they were all liberals over there. Why doesn`t somebody leak it?

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: They might actually believe in the ethics of their job.

MATTHEWS: They`re listening, Howard, and they`re so taken with you.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN: It`s Tax Day. Leave me alone.

MATTHEWS: I`m extending.

JOHNSON: I just think, overall, you know, whether it`s the drain the swamp wire, or anything else that he was saying, we`re paying for the White House. I actually think that knowing who comes in and out of the house...

MATTHEWS: And three million bucks a trip.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: Yes, that we`re paying for as taxpayers. He has an obligation to tell us. What has he got to hide?

MATTHEWS: You say that, but what is he looking right now? He`s probably saying, what do you got in your wallet?

Like Samuel L. Jackson, what is in your wallet? He said, I`m bigger, richer, and tough to you, you know?

JOHNSON: Well, yes. He`s not running for reelection for three years.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this. Let`s talk about the people in the streets, real people, they`re not paid, rMD+BO_rMDNM_people I know, people like people I know, certainly.

Howard, what is it? Is it their concern about -- this concern has changed. First of all, was he just lying to the fact that he was not paying enough taxes? I think he had that evidence to come out. Remember, we got the one report that you can project it and show that he was taking so many tax deductions, he wasn`t paying anything over like 15 years?

And then there`s also the concern about his entanglements, especially with Russia now. What do you think is driving that person in the street right now to protest?

FINEMAN: The person in the street.

MATTHEWS: The one demonstrating this weekend.

FINEMAN: Well, they think -- and there`s some evidence to back up their theory -- that this administration is being run like a giant private enterprise off the books for the benefit of global investors all over the world and people who may have lent Donald Trump money.

I think what is at the root of at least the investigative concern about his tax returns is who he has borrowed money from.

MATTHEWS: Did you say root?

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN: Yes. And that feeds into the larger image that the people who are demonstrating have that this administration is just a big private corporate exercise in control.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

JOHNSON: I will be even more clear.

They think it`s a kleptocracy. OK? When I talk to my friends who went there, they were like, look, this guy, we`re paying for his kids to vacation. We`re paying for him to hang out at his own place every weekend. We`re paying for Trump Tower.

This is their modern Boston Tea Party. So, that`s what this is about. People just think that he`s running a scam on the United States, just like he did with Trump University.

MATTHEWS: Speaking of Boston.

LINSKEY: Yes, great.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Boston Tea Party.

LINSKEY: No, I think we`re going to keep hearing this, because Trump has said that he wants to do an overhaul to The tax code.

And you cannot have a massive piece of legislation like that moving through this town...

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a good point.

JOHNSON: Yes.

LINSKEY: ... and expect not to have his tax -- his own taxes come up over and over again.

FINEMAN: Well, that`s when you say, what`s in your -- that`s when you say, on the tax cut, what is in your wallet?

MATTHEWS: What is in your wallet?

LINSKEY: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, the Roundtable is sticking with us.

And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.

Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable. \

Starting with Jason, tell me something I don`t know.

JASON JOHNSON, THE ROOT: So, after you do Brexit and tell the rest of Europe you don`t want them to come, how do you attract young people to fill your posts? The barista vista, yes, the home secretary in England is now talking about offering a visa for two years for young people who want to come and work in pubs and hospitality, as long as they don`t take any benefits and they won`t stay past two years and they don`t get promotions.

MATTHEWS: Second class citizen.

JOHNSON: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: A second class subject of the queen. Yes.

ANNIE LINSKEY, THE BOSTON GLOBE: Well, this is a nugget that`s geared specifically to you, Chris, because I know how you follow the Kennedy`s very closely, as your audience does. But we at "The Boston Globe" are hearing that in Connecticut, where Ted Kennedy has been a state senator for two years and has been considering running, we`re hearing that he`s not going to be running for governor. He could still change his mind.

MATTHEWS: Well, Mark Leibovich would love that.

(CROSSTALK)

HOWARD FINEMAN, THE HUFFINGTON POST: Well, it will be a disappointment to people.

LINSKEY: Right.

FINEMAN: Well, Chris --

MATTHEWS: He`s actually a very charming guy, right?

FINEMAN: He`s very capable and very charming.

LINSKEY: He could change his mind.

FINEMAN: I would want to know the people coming in, they would know how to say drinking it up time.

All right. When the budget comes up, Chuck Schumer has got a plan and he`s standing in the way of whatever the Republicans want to do, because they still have the filibuster in the Senate.

MATTHEWS: Take 60 votes.

FINEMAN: They want to keep Planned Parenthood money in and no money for the wall out.

MATTHEWS: They can stop the governors of those states.

FINEMAN: They`re going to dare -- and they`re going to dare Donald Trump to veto it.

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s about time the Republicans learn the horrors of the debt ceiling passing, because it`s usually the Democrats have to pass it. That`s great. Planned Parenthood, positive for liberals, especially, women, especially in the wall, just --

FINEMAN: Just to troll Trump. Keeping the money out for the wall, trolling Trump.

MATTHEWS: Hispanics and liberals are going to get crazy -- I mean, you can`t raise the debt ceiling to pay for the wall.

Anyway, Jason Johnson, sir, thank you. Annie Linskey from "The Boston Globe" and Howard Fineman.

He plays, by the way, the former chief of staff to Selina Meyer on the HBO hit comedy, "Veep". Actor Kevin Dunn`s take on the state of politics here and in his own show that just started last night. It was great.

You`re watching HARDBALL. Veep man coming up in a second.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, NBC News has learned now that Susan Rice did nothing wrong. That`s according to both Republican and Democratic congressional aides who reviewed the National Security Agency material flagged by House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes.

President Trump told the "New York Times" earlier this month that Rice broke the law. But officials tell NBC News there was no evidence of wrongdoing and, quote, "It was all completely normal." Good for her.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN DUNN, ACTOR: Ma`am, you can`t run for president, you don`t have the party support. You don`t have the donor support. I`m sorry, ma`am, I can`t watch you lose again. There`s nobody out there who wants to see a Meyer comeback, Selina. It`s over.

JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUSS, ACTOR: Well, I was speaking hypothetically.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was a scene from last night. Season 6 premier of HBO`s "Veep." The comedy has always looked at politics from an exaggerated lens, of course, but now, viewers have President Trump to watch in comparison the show`s main character and former president Selina Meyer. In fact, some of the Trump administration`s moments have felt like they belong in one of the episodes here, so much so that fans have played Trump video over the "Veep" credits, which is usually depict the chaos going on inside the White House.

Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you everybody. We`ll see some very, very strong results, very quickly. Thank you very much.

REPORTER: Today with your tweet, were you trying to tell the Justice Department to grant immunity to Michael Flynn? Were you trying to do that, Mr. President? Was that your intention, sir? Mr. President, was that your intention, Mr. President? Was that your intention, sir?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Joining me right now is actor Kevin Dunn, you just saw, him. He plays former White House chief of staff Ben Cafferty on "Veep".

Kevin, thank you for joining us.

DUNN: How are you, Chris?

MATTHEWS: You know, this is -- last night you had to be the bad news bearer last night with the former president.

DUNN: Right. It was kind of a sad scene.

MATTHEWS: Is this the story she`s not going to run? I guess we now know the future. She`s not running again, or is she?

DUNN: Well, I mean, I`m trying to convince her that it`s really not a good idea to run, but as you know Selina Meyer one who takes much advice to anyone. So, I think it will remain to be seen.

MATTHEWS: Are you guys tracking certainly feelings? A lot of real Hillary lovers and obviously Hillary detractors as well wish that she wouldn`t run again. And I don`t mean that certainly negatively because some people think why go through it one more time, a third try. Is this -- do you think your script writers were thinking about that when they wrote this?

DUNN: You know, I think our script writers, you know, Dave Mandel his group of scribes really don`t, they continue the tradition of not using current things going on in politics to shape the show. There`s certainly a lot of crossover, you know, because things are -- it`s Washington, D.C. and, you know, bizarre stuff happens and it`s getting more bizarre by the minute.

You know, I have been watching the news since Korea came up and it was just too scary a prospect for me. So, I was in the green room for watching the show and getting ready to talk about -- I`m watching someone talk about the idea that we could defend South Korea with North Korea, it scared the living hell out of me.

MATTHEWS: Well, it should. I mean, I`m just saying, Kevin, you say it`s the one thing that scares me, we`re dealing with a guy, you know, down Cuban missile crisis, at least we were dealing with a communist who had some principles he made to the bad guy from my point of view. But he wasn`t going to blow up the world.

DUNN: This guy is truly a maniac. I mean, he`s really -- I`m sure he doesn`t myriad of mental disorders and, you know, I don`t know what`s in his liquor cabinet. I imagine it`s pretty bad.

MATTHEWS: What do you think of those guys marching along like robots, along with the same exact expression on their face? You know, I think I know what freedom looks like, it`s the opposite of that.

DUNN: Yes, I mean, knowing that if you don`t have the same look as everyone else on my face, that you`ll end up with 50-caliber antiaircraft getting blown to pieces. So, and they`re starving, you know, they`re marching along with, you know, a spoonful of rice.

MATTHEWS: You know, last year`s presidential, however it turned down. It turned down in a bizarre way. We had a lot of options. We had your guy, Bernie Sanders, we had potentially, we never quite got to them Joe Biden. We had Trump. We had Hillary.

DUNN: Right.

MATTHEWS: You think there could have been surprise different Democrat, a challenger to Trump in the end, the last couple of months. There would have been a different campaign with Bernie or Biden.

DUNN: Yes, I think -- it would have been a different campaign just because I think that there was kind of a very rigid system that the Clinton campaign had and they didn`t verify and things that I read seemed to dictate that they didn`t want anyone interfering with their little -- their campaign.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

DUNN: So, yes, I think it would have been -- I think it would have been more interesting in terms of actual, you know, the nuts and bolts of, you know, how we get jobs, how we can pay people 15 bucks an hour. I think that would have been really pressed a lot more.

With Biden, I think it will be similar to Hillary, but then, again, he didn`t have such a stamp on him. It was just an all out battle royal between who is the worst person and it was -- it didn`t help out. It didn`t help raise issues and it became just kind of -- just such a mud throwing contest that I think people got really disheartened by it.

MATTHEWS: Look to the future right now. We had Trump as president, impeachment is very difficult, it takes two-thirds of the vote by the Senate to convict. I think a lot of people, friends, progressives saying, oh, the way he erupts to us. But the system doesn`t erupt. Our system is pretty rigid.

DUNN: No, yes, it`s just, I mean, I hear all these things about impeach him and all the stuff. That`s not going to happen. I think what we have to do is open up, I think, for Democrats, they just -- they`re proving not to be progressives.

And I think there`s a huge, huge chunk in this country, especially with young people that are social Democrats. They don`t want to hear that we can`t have $15 minimum wage.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know.

DUNN: That`s about the same as it was when -- when I was back their age. That`s what it came out to.

And, when I went to college, you know, I had kids who, you know, and my neighborhood and we could go to state college, although I went to a private college, that was $4,000 a year. That was like, whoa. And I end up spending, I was $6,000 in debt when I got out of school, which I was -- you know, I was terrified.

MATTHEWS: Sounds like me. I was 2,800 bucks a day.

DUNN: Yes, they`ll call you and what are you sending in, 15 bucks. I`ll send you in 15 bucks this month, you know? With $15, you can`t do anything, you could send in 15 bucks.

MATTHEWS: Kevin, you`re a regular guy, which is my highest salute. A regular guy, by the way.

DUNN: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Democrats and progressives need an agenda. They`ll put it out there five or ten points that they would fight for if they were in power, so people know what they are and nobody -- and Chuck isn`t doing that. Schumer is not doing that.

DUNN: No.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Kevin Dunn.

DUNN: Thank you so much.

MATTHEWS: It`s always good to have you on, sir.

DUNN: Yes, thanks for having me on.

MATTHEWS: And speaking of entertainment meeting politics, Christian Bale is going to be here tomorrow night to talk about his new movie, "The Promise." Look at this guy, he`s a fighter. He was an American hustle. This guy could do anything. That`s tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

When we return, let me finish tonight with the Trump Watch. I don`t think he`s going to like it, but he won`t dislike it as much as he usually does in honor of -- I think Melania is going to like it.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERIAL BREAK)

MATTHESWS: Trump Watch, Monday, April 17, 2017.

OK. For Easter Monday, a nice story about immigrants. If you`ve ever been to a naturalization ceremony, you can see the emotions of people becoming citizens of this country and something to remember. And we know why, because those of us who are born here sometimes take it for granted, but being an American is an honor and those who come Americans know it, feel it, revere it.

Today at the White House, we saw a small but telling scene of an immigrant showing a stronger impulse to display her patriotism than someone like so many of us who are fortunate to have been born here. It was at the White House Easter egg hunt. OK. You can say that doesn`t matter. But this little thing that happened, it does. Up there on the Truman balcony, we see the president and first lady, the band begins to play the national anthem and look who knew to put their hand over their heart.

It was Melania who came here from Slovenia nudging the man she married to show his respect. I love that nudge. Good for her. Good for the president, to finally take the cue, there he is. God bless America.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.

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